Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken

This recipe needs to come with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, it’s not quick. I underestimated how long this would take and we were eating dinner at 7pm. Oops. Secondly, my kids didn’t like it. Even after trying to ‘sell’ it to them as chicken nuggets in a ketchup sauce. Henry spent most of the meal trying to pick off the coating on the chicken. Alice took one look, pushed it around the plate for a second, then pronounced she was finished. Lucy, bless her, gave it a good go. Hannah showed a feigned interest then got stuck between her stool and the table.

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However, this means absolutely nothing. Because it was bloody lovely. And it’s fairly simple. Just not quick. I’ll definitely be making it again, albeit maybe not for the kids.

Ingredients (to serve 4 adults)

4 chicken breasts, cut into bitesize chunks
100g cornflour
2 eggs, beaten
salt & pepper
vegetables of your choice (I used carrots cut into batons, sliced mushrooms & red pepper)

For the sauce:

75g brown sugar
100ml red wine vinegar
75g ketchup
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 small tin of pineapple chunks in juice

1. Make the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the whole tin of pineapple, juice and all. Then add your veg to the bowl and stir. You can use whatever veg you like, as much as you want. Set this aside whilst you prepare the chicken.

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2.  Just so you know, this will get messy. Put the cornflour in a bowl and season. In a separate bowl crack your eggs and beat. Take your chicken pieces in batches, plonk them in the cornflour to coat, then dunk them in the egg and onto a plate. That’s right – cornflour then egg.

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3. Fill a frying pan or wok with vegetable oil to about a centimetre depth, and heat over a medium high setting. Fry the chicken pieces, again in batches, for a couple of minutes, turning over halfway, until nicely golden. This doesn’t take long, they really only take a couple of minutes. Set aside on a plate with a piece of kitchen roll to absorb some of the excess oil.

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4. Lightly oil a large casserole dish (a large shallow dish is best) and place all of the chicken into this dish. Onto this tip the sauce mixture and stir through.

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5. Chuck this into a preheated oven, 170°C/325°F/Gas 3. Cook for about 50 minutes, until the sauce has thickened, stirring a couple of times to coat everything in sauce.

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Serve with whatever you fancy. We had ours with lovely fluffy basmati rice (see my Kedgeree recipe for how to cook great rice every time).

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I made this for three adults and four children – my Mum’s visiting – which required a fair amount of chicken, another reason why it took so long. Cut the quantities in half and it probably wouldn’t take quite so long. Although I’d still be tempted to cook this the next time we have visitors. It’s worth the effort.

Happy cooking!

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Sausage Meatball Spaghetti

We’re just back from a few days away, visiting family down in Cornwall. It’s amazing the difference a year can make. We stayed in a (lovely) holiday home with the kids, and it was all very …. well …. civilised. Having three children the same age has proven ‘testing’ in many ways. Until quite recently even simple activities, like a trip to the park, or a meal out, were undertaken like a military operation, and with a fair amount of stress. But the girls are getting older, and life is definitely getting easier!

It’s funny taking them out though, they do draw a certain amount of attention. I don’t dress them the same much nowadays. They’re such little independent ladies, it’s nice for them to be seen as different. But it’s kind of cute when we do. However, it does draw more attention, which I’d forgotten.

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We got a lot more comments. The usual “Wow triplets – you’ve got your hands full!” – one man took the effort to lean out of his first floor window to call this to us as we passed. A woman looked slightly aghast as she uttered the infamous words, “…rather you than me…!”.

We’ve had some funny things said to us over the past few years. Folk see triplets, and I think are so surprised, they then say some ridiculous things, and ask some personal questions.

“Did you plan triplets?” – erm …. yes?

“Were they IVF?” (or HIV from one woman) – think about this one, have you ever asked someone with one baby if they’d had IVF??

“Did you have to do it three times in the one night…?” – I’m sure that’s how it works.

But as someone who often opens her mouth before engaging her brain, I don’t really mind. I’d most definitely do the same if roles were reversed.

So before we left, I made this for the family. And got 6 empty bowls in return. Always good. It definitely falls into the ‘quick and simple’ category. The quantities below served 2 adults and 5 children (we had Henry’s friend for dinner), but just change the amount of pasta and quantity of sausages to suit you.

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Ingredients

8 pork sausages
420g pasta
1 tin/carton of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp/cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp of basil (dried or frozen)
∼ 30g parmesan, grated

1. Slice down the length of each sausage and remove the skins. Then separate each sausage into about 4-5 little balls.

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2. In a frying pan, brown the meatballs. As long as your pan is non-stick, there’s no need to add any oil as the sausages will produce their own fat. I did this in two batches so as not to overload the pan. Remove the meatballs and place to the side whilst you make the sauce.

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3. Depending on how much oil is left in your pan from the sausages, add some olive oil and the garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes over a medium heat, but don’t let the garlic start to burn. Add the tomatoes and the basil. Let this cook for a couple of minutes then taste. Add some salt, and if the sauce is quite sharp, a pinch of sugar. Tip in the meatballs and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

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4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted water until soft.

5. Once the meatballs are cooked, take the pan off the heat and add the parmesan. Stir this through so that it melts through the sauce.

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6. Add the meatballs to the spaghetti and serve.

Sausage Meatball Spaghetti - Super simple midweek dinner that the whole family will enjoy | thehecticcook.com

I served this with some salad and cheesy garlic bread. And for once, a meal I thought the kids would like, they liked! Woo hoo!

Happy cooking!

Not Just Another Tuna Pasta Bake

I guess I’m pretty much what is considered a foodie. Or maybe foodaholic is a better word. I live for food. Eating food, cooking food, reading about food…etc. I haven’t read a novel in quite some time but, to the Husband’s amusement, I have read hundreds of food magazines and recipe books. I’ll take a recipe book to bed for some late-night reading. Who needs ’50 Shades’?

I bought the BBC GoodFood magazine the other day, but I was really disappointed. There were few recipes I’d actually bother trying, and I was pretty uninspired. This was a sad day. Their ideas for ‘easy midweek cooking’ included Ginger Miso Aubergine Noodles, and Artichoke & Olive Calzones. Is it just me?

When I’m looking for a recipe the first thing I look at is the list of ingredients. How many, and how ‘normal’? Could I whip it up from my store cupboard ingredients? That’s always a selling point. Then I look at the instructions. How long am I going to have to spend in the kitchen? A couple of times a week I’ll make something a bit more complicated, for the Husband and I, but generally I’m looking for fairly straightforward recipes that I can feed the kids (or at least alter to suit).

This is one such recipe. The original comes from Annabel Karmel, but I’ve simplified it and made it suit my family (no onion was harmed in the making of this dish).

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Ingredients

280g pasta
2 tins of tuna, drained
300ml passata
1 tsp frozen/dried basil
20g butter
20g plain flour
200ml milk
40g grated cheese, plus a little extra for the topping

1. Cook the pasta in a pan of salted boiling water until cooked to your liking.

2. Tip the tuna, passata and basil into a small pan and gently warm. Season to taste.

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For the cheese sauce:

3. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Once melted add the flour and mix to a paste.

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Let this cook for a couple of minutes (this cooks the flour and prevents your sauce from tasting floury), then gradually start adding the milk whilst whisking.

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Keep whisking to ensure there are no lumps, then stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce has thickened.

4. Add the cheese and stir until melted into the sauce. You can add a little white pepper to taste if you like.

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5. Once the pasta has cooked, strain it then return to the pan. Add to this the tuna and the cheese sauces. I added some frozen sweetcorn at this point to give some crunch. Pour into an ovenproof dish and top with some grated cheese.

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6. Pop this until a preheated grill until the cheese is melted and golden.

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In all honesty, this isn’t a ‘throw together in 5 minutes’ kind of meal. It does require the use of a fair few pots:

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But it is worth the extra bit of effort – and by effort, I’m talking a few more pans, and a cheese sauce, nothing complicated.

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This served one adult and four children, but with a bit more pasta would easily feed two adults and numerous children. If I were making this just for the kids, I’d halve the sauce quantities. As a guide I use 80g pasta for an adult, and 50g for a child – however, we have big appetites in my house, so use what you know suits you.

And as with any recipe, you can change it up, add ingredients that your family like, do whatever you fancy. I’ve made this into a tuna lasagne before, just layered the 2 sauces with some lasagne sheets. It’s a lovely dish that my lot wolf down – always a winner!

Happy cooking!

Spaghetti Carbonara (A Lighter Version)

So the weekend has been and gone. We had friends staying with us, so there was a certain amount of ‘entertaining’ – read into that, lots of food, and equally lots of drink. In fact we did very little this weekend apart from eat and drink! A couple of meals I’ll blog later this week, including a very yummy pudding.

I’m getting very used to photographing everything I cook. I’ll be taking photos of my breakfast next, just out of habit. I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on how to photograph food, how to make it look more appetising, hoping it might help. I’ve advanced from my phone to the Husband’s fancy schmancy DSLR. He put it on a setting, told me I could make the backgrounds ‘fuzzy’ by twiddling a knob (ooh er), and let me go. Hopefully my photos have improved at least a smidge? I will add that the Husband is being very patient, considering he is having to wait some time to get his meals at the minute, some of which are a tad cooler than they would have been, had I not spent at least 5 minutes trying to get the ‘perfect’ shot. I’m telling him it’ll all be worth it when I’m making millions from the recipe books and tv deals :D.

So this carbonara is a major fixture in the HC house. It’s one of the few meals I know we can sit down to as a family, and everyone will eat. Clear plates all round. It’s a winner. It’s actually a Slimming World recipe I found years ago, thus it’s pretty low fat into the bargain. And it’s (honestly!) really quick and simple. You can make it with as little as four ingredients – I used six as I love mushrooms and the kids love peas.

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Ingredients

360g spaghetti
4-5 rashers of smoked back bacon, diced (fat removed if you like)
60g parmesan, grated
3-5 eggs, depending on size
frozen peas
mushrooms, sliced

Note: For pasta, I tend to use 50g per child, and 80g per adult. I find with this amount of spaghetti, the quantities above work for us. However, the bacon, cheese and veg (if using) are all flexible. Use as much or as little as you wish. I used 5 eggs as they were small, but for bigger eggs you’d get away with fewer (i.e. 3 large, 4 medium).

1. Boil the spaghetti in a large pan of salted water until it’s as soft as you like it. Right before you go to sieve/drain it, add the frozen peas (this stops them from overcooking and keeps them lovely and fresh).

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2. Whilst the pasta is cooking, break the eggs into a bowl/jug and whisk until mixed. Add the cheese and season as desired (I tend to only add a bit of pepper here as the bacon is pretty salty already).

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3. Add a little oil to a wok/large pan and fry the bacon – I tend to use a wok as it holds everything once you’ve added in the spaghetti.

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4. Add the mushrooms if using and fry until cooked/soft.

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5. Once both the pasta and bacon/mushrooms are cooked, turn the heat off completely (both pans), sieve the pasta (with peas), and add it to your bacon. On top of that, chuck on the egg/cheese mix.

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6. Stir this into the pasta, getting it all good and covered. This can be easier with a couple of forks. The egg mixture will cook, simply from the heat of the pasta.

Note: if you’re using an issue military cooker, remove the wok/pan completely from the ring you were using, as it’ll still be hotter than the sun and might scramble the egg.

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If you’re a creamy carbonara lover, this may not be quite to your taste (although I guess you could throw some cream into the egg/cheese mixture before you chuck it on the pasta). But if you’re after a lighter version, one that is lovely and cheesy, but not blatantly trying to clog your arteries, then this could be for you.

I’m sold, mainly because my kids devour it and look for more. That’s good enough for me.

Happy cooking!

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Traditional Scottish Stovies

So this could be a highly contentious post. I once read that if you asked one hundred Scots folk how to make stovies, you’d get one hundred different recipes. This is so very true. Stovies are a dish that probably every Scottish person recognises. It’s a national dish, but one that gets less international attention than the likes of haggis or battered mars bars. You get stovies served at parties; at weddings; basically any Scottish social gathering. They’re that awesome.

Traditional Scottish Stovies - The ultimate comfort food, Scottish Stovies are loved by a nation for good reason. So simple to make and really delicious | thehecticcook.com

I always think of stovies as the perfect comfort food. It’s a potato based dish, to which you can add pretty much any type of meat, although mince or corned beef are most popular. My recipe is not traditional. But it uses what I tend to have to hand in the cupboard, and is pretty bloody tasty (if I do say so myself). The kids lap it up and it always results in empty plates. So it’s a staple meal in the HC house. Just please don’t lynch me because its not ‘how mummy used to make it’ (it’s not even how my mum makes stovies, it’s just how I’ve come to make them).

Traditional Scottish Stovies - The ultimate comfort food, Scottish Stovies are loved by a nation for good reason. So simple to make and really delicious | thehecticcook.com
 Ingredients

potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 beef stock cube / stock pot
1 beef oxo cube
1 tin of corned beef, cubed
salt & pepper

I’ve not given a quantity for the potatoes as I tend to go by how many I’m cooking for. I’ll assign a small potato each to the kids, then a couple for every adult, plus an extra couple to be safe. If I’m just cooking for the kids I’ll only need half an onion and half a tin of corned beef. You can freeze corned beef. If there’s leftovers (not including what I eat whilst I’m dishing out) then that’s a billy-bonus.

1. Heat your oil in a large pan then add the onion, and cook it really well so that it gets nicely browned. It’s important you add lots of flavour to your onion so don’t be afraid to overcook it.

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2. Add the sliced potato, the stock cube, the oxo cube and about 300ml of water. Give a good stir.

Note: Traditional stovies are made using beef dripping. This isn’t something I normally have to hand, so I’ve had to add the meaty taste from elsewhere. I find the stock pots really good for this (either the normal beef one or the rich beef – both are good), but a regular beef stock cube would also work. The oxo cube adds colour and extra flavour – I add beef oxo cubes to pretty much everything meaty, it’s kind of my secret ingredient (just not that secret). I love them and think they add a lovely rich flavour to any kind of meat dish (bolognese; stew; I even add them to chicken gravy!). They always feature in my cupboard supplies.

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3. Put the lid of the pan on and let it simmer. Every so often give it a good stir. The potatoes will start to stick to the bottom, so with every stir, scrape the bottom of the pan. This is good, it all adds flavour. As you stir, the potatoes will begin to break up which is what you want.

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4. Once the potatoes have softened and absorbed most of the stock, add your meat. Give it a good stir so everything is combined and check your seasoning. The corned beef can be quite salty, so it’s best to check the seasoning once it’s been added. Season as required.

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This is not a pretty dish. Indeed, I’m sure some out there could be quite inventive in describing just what it looks like. But it’s tasty. It truly is. And its simple. If you like potatoes and corned beef, do give this a go. And let me know how you get on – I love hearing when folk have made anything from the blog! 😀

Traditional Scottish Stovies - The ultimate comfort food, Scottish Stovies are loved by a nation for good reason. So simple to make and really delicious | thehecticcook.com

 

Oh and serve it with a good splodge of ketchup.

Happy cooking!

Traditional Scottish Stovies - The ultimate comfort food, Scottish Stovies are loved by a nation for good reason. So simple to make and really delicious | thehecticcook.com

Crispy Coated Chicken Nuggets

As a busy mum, I think convenience food is essential. I always have some fish fingers and turkey dinosaurs, or some such fare in my freezer. This blog may be about home cooked food, but I’m human, and sometimes even simple cooking is beyond me and I just can’t be bothered.

But for days when I can be bothered, these chicken nuggets are super simple and go down extremely well with the little cherubs. I always have Rice Krispies in the cupboard (or more likely Crispy Rice, or Rice Crackles, or whatever name the supermarket have called their own brand). They’re a useful cupboard staple, for breakfast as well as cooking (oh Mars Bar slice, how I adore thee).

There are a couple of ways I make these, it just depends what’s to hand really. First you need your crispy rice puff cereal stuff. You can bash this to within an inch of it’s life with the likes of a rolling pin; you can take out some aggression with your bare hands; or you can blitz them in a blender. It doesn’t matter, you’ll just get varying degrees of crunch. I used my little blender.

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Regards quantities, I probably used about 80g of cereal, but a ‘couple of bowls worth’ should also give a good idea. This is good as it is, but you can also add some extra flavour if you’d like – parmesan, paprika, seasoning etc. This time around I just added a small amount of seasoning and some parmesan, but I often leave it plain.

You then need something to coat your diced chicken breast. Sometimes I use mayonnaise which is a nice change and super quick. This time I used a beaten egg.

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Slop the chicken into the egg (I tend to throw it all in), then put it into the cereal mix a few bits at a time, and cover it good and proper.

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Get it nicely coated then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof/baking paper.

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Pop the tray into a preheated oven, about 190C for 20-25 minutes. The nuggets should be looking nicely toasted on the outside, and thoroughly cooked on the inside.

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My monkeys got their nuggets with some chips, peas/corn and a healthy blob of ketchup. I got 4 empty plates back. Funny that?! Sometimes simple food is the best food where kids are concerned.

Easy, huh? Happy cooking!

Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar Lamb Casserole

Major blogger fail this time. I forgot to take a photo of the dish before I served/ate it (unhappy face). What a plonker. In my defence, I was dealing with trying to get a meal out, whilst also making a pudding, whilst one child tried to eat a glow stick (those things do not taste good apparently, and stink! But are thankfully not toxic…). The Husband actually carted said child off to wash out her mouth and her hands, whilst trying not to retch at the smell – he’s not very good with bad smells (nappy changing was always entertaining). And that was in addition to the usual chaos going on around me. So I forgot. Sorry. But there were leftovers, so I’ve taken a photo of them, it’s just not as pretty (again, unhappy face).

So this was a slow cooker meal. Have I mentioned my love affair with my slow cooker? In fact, *whispers* I have two! A 3.5 litre and a 6 litre. I tend to use the 3.5 litre more, but the ‘big yin’ is great for whole chunks of meat. A slow cooker can make even the cheapest, toughest meat melt in the mouth. You do a bit of prep, chuck it all in, and then leave it, and your evening meal is made. Magic! And seemingly it only uses the same amount of electricity as a lightbulb, so economical too. Love it!

If you don’t have a slow cooker though, this can be done in the oven. It can either be cooked all day at a lower heat (about 6 hours at 130C), or for a couple of hours at 180C. This should serve about 4 adults.

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Ingredients

700-900g lamb
1 red onion, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp plain flour
100ml red wine
20ml balsamic vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300ml lamb or chicken stock
veg of your choice
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp garlic

When it comes to meat, I’m not particularly knowledgable. I tend to go by quantity and price. For this I bought a whole boneless shoulder of lamb. It meant I had to cut it up, and remove a reasonable amount of fat, but as it was a Sunday morning, I could allow the time. You could easily use cubed lamb for ease, and choose leaner lamb if you’re trying to be good (although a bit of fat gives more taste, typically). As it’s being slow cooked, the meat will become tender whatever cut you choose, so choosing a cheaper cut is the bonus of slow cooking.

Once you’ve prepped your meat (if necessary) pop it into a plastic bag with the flour and seasoning. Give it a good shake to coat (this is what will thicken the sauce).

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Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and throw in your meat to brown. I tend to do this in a couple of batches otherwise the pan gets too overcrowded. Once the meat is browned, pop it into your slow cooker (or your ovenproof dish).

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You’ll be left with a pan looking something like this. You want all that meaty goodness that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan, so add another tablespoon of oil, then the onion. Let it start to soften a bit (only a few minutes, the onion doesn’t need to fully soften at this point), then add the garlic for a minute. Add to that the tomatoes, vinegar and wine. For small measures like the vinegar, I have a handy little measuring jug:

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Let the mixture come to boil then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring it often, until you can feel the bits stuck to the bottom start to loosen. Pour this into the slow cooker or dish, with the veg (chopped into large chunks) and the rosemary, and season. Cook in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low, or 4 hours on high – or in the oven as mentioned above.

I served this with lovely buttery mash and green veg. But this is the only photo I have of the finished product:

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It doesn’t look particularly pretty, but it was bloody lovely. Perfect for a wintery Sunday. If you like lamb, definitely give it a go.

Happy cooking!

Smoked Haddock Kedgeree (Method 1)

I’ve come across two methods for making kedgeree in my time – both are good, but give slightly different results. I actually tend to use ‘method 2’, which I will blog in time (nothing like a bit of suspense building huh?), but tonight I used ‘method 1’, which I would say is slightly easier, and gives a drier kedgeree result.

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Ingredients

400g smoked haddock
350g rice
3 tbsp curry paste
1 chopped onion
olive oil
frozen peas
2 eggs, hard boiled
salt & pepper

Briefly about the ingredients. I’m a Scottish lass. I grew up in a fishing town on the east coast. So fish was never hard to come by, and always lovely and fresh. However, we now live in Oxfordshire, about as far from the sea as you could get, and getting fresh fish is nigh on impossible. So I have to rely on the supermarkets, where it is usually pretty pricey and not necessarily that good quality (unless my Mum brings me some when she visits – she’s been known to carry it vacuum packed on ice packs down on the train. She’s a good Mum!). Hence why I’ve used frozen smoked haddock fillets here (they’re a bit cheaper, although truth be told the flavour just isn’t as good, so next time I’m buying fresh). So I would recommend fresh fish if you can. And it has to be smoked.

I used 350g rice – for the Husband, me and the 4 kiddiwinkles. This actually left a full adult portion, but as the Husband absolutely loves kedgeree, he’ll eat this for lunch tomorrow, and it keeps me in the good books. I used korma curry paste as I was making this for the kids, but a medium paste would give a bit more spice. You can also use curry powder if you’d prefer – you’d need about 2 tbsp.

So, onto the method.

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Firstly, cook your rice. I read how to cook rice perfectly in an Indian recipe book once, and it’s now my trusted method. It honestly gives you lovely fluffy rice every time, so bear with me. Soak the rice before you cook it, for as long as you can really, but at least about 15 minutes. This makes the cooking time really short. Drain, then add it to a pan of salted boiling water and let it bubble away. You’ve really got to stay on top of it. After a few minutes (literally just a few minutes, probably about 4), test it. You want it to be ‘almost cooked’, just with some bite left.

imageYou wouldn’t class it as cooked at this point, but that’s when you need to remove it from the heat, sieve it and pour it back into the pan. Pop a lid on and leave it. When you return to it after a few minutes it will have finished cooking and you can fluff it with a fork. Hopefully perfect rice!

In a large pan add your chopped onion to about a tablespoon of olive oil. Now I only used half an onion this time, because remember, my children ‘….don’t like onion…’. Still Henry managed to find onion at 20 yards and spent most of dinner time picking it out, one piece at a time.

Cook the onion until it’s soft and starting to brown. Undercooked onion does my head in.

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Add your curry paste or powder to this and let it cook for a few minutes. Whilst this is all going on, place your fish in a pan with water and bring to the boil.

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Simmer for about 10 minutes until the fish is cooked through, then drain and add to your onion/curry mix. Throw in the peas (if you like peas in your kedgeree) and give it a good mix before adding the rice and mixing through again. You can then add your boiled egg however you want it – or not in my case. Eugh!

Et voila! Kedgeree. This is how it looks in the HC house:

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I will add at this point that it went down with varying popularity with my children. One cleared her plate; one ate about half; one just pushed it about her plate a bit; and Henry ate a little bit around trying to pick out all the onion. With six mouths to feed I’m not about to cook separate meals, but also want us eating a varied menu (the Husband and I need something to look forward to!). So sometimes plates get cleared, and sometimes they don’t. But believe me – missing a meal is not really a problem for my children 😀

Happy cooking!

Quick and Easy Gammon Pasta Bake

Henry has swimming on a Tuesday, so I tend to give the kids their dinner earlier than usual in order to shove him out the door on time (sometimes literally). I was a bit pushed for time tonight as I’d booked a Sainsbury’s delivery right about the time I needed to cook dinner (PPP = piss poor planning). However, with the help of the new cooker, I was able to get this out and on the table in under 30 minutes (and I don’t say this lightly, as I’m always pretty cynical when those tv chef-types say you can cook a meal in ridiculously quick times).

So tonight, for the kids, I made a pretty easy gammon pasta bake. It’s not exactly cordon bleu, but this blog is about what we’re actually eating. I know everyone has their own ‘quick and easy’ meals. This is one of ours.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 chopped onion (or frozen in my case)
1 tsp chopped garlic (again frozen)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp basil (and again I used frozen, fancy that!)
1/2 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
1 smoked gammon steak
240g pasta (this feeds my 4 kids with some spare to keep the Husband happy)
frozen peas
grated cheddar cheese

The sauce is pretty much the pizza sauce I made the other day, just with less cooking to keep it ‘saucy’ (are you keeping up with my technical terms?).

  1. Heat the oil in a small pan, add the onion and cook til softened, then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, sugar and season, then put a lid on the pan and let simmer for about 5 minutes (really just whilst the pasta cooks). 


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2. Once it’s cooked, I tend to blitz it with my hand blender as I’m serving it to the kids and they, (whingey voice) “don’t like onions…”. But you could happily leave it as it is.

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3. Boil your pasta until cooked (Italians would hate me, I cook my pasta until it is totally dead. And buried). As you take it off the heat add your frozen peas – this is enough time to cook them without them going that horrible faded green way. Drain your pasta, return it to the pan and add your sauce. I only used half the sauce in this instance, so I’ve boxed the remainder up to freeze, ready to use the next time.

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As an aside, I bought 50 of those tupperware tubs you get from takeaway shops, just from Amazon, as they’re perfect for freezing leftovers in. We own a huge chest freezer, big enough to put a body in(!), and it’s full of stuff like this. I love my chest freezer, and with a big family, it’s a godsend. You don’t necessarily need one as big as ours, but a standard chest freezer can be really useful if you have the spare room.

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4. Whilst my pasta and sauce were cooking, I shoved the gammon steak under the grill to cook. It only needs about 5 minutes each side. I then trimmed off the fat and diced it up. Add that to your pasta/sauce mix. Tip it into a dish, sprinkle with as much cheese as you like, and grill until it’s nicely golden and bubbling.

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In all honesty, the girls didn’t really eat the gammon. Kids are funny with meat (well mine are) and I think it was a bit chewy for them. Henry ate it. But left the peas. You can never win!

Quick & Easy Gammon Pasta Bake - A really simple dish that can be thrown together in 30 minutes, and will satisfy hungry bellies | thehecticcook.com

And the Husband and I? We had a take away 😉

And wine – well it is Tuesday.

Happy cooking!

Warming Winter Chicken Casserole

Our Sunday meal this week was a chicken casserole. I love casseroles because pretty much anything goes. Chuck together some meat, veggies, stock and flavouring, and it should result in a tasty casserole. My casseroles are often made up as I go along. Unless I’m following a recipe, chances are they’ll be different every time. Again, it usually depends what’s in my cupboard and what I need to use up.

This time I cooked it in the oven – I’d left it too late to slow cook, and with chicken it doesn’t really matter. But I love my slow cooker, and any other meat (e.g. beef, lamb) which you’d want really tender, I tend to slow cook. It’s a lot cheaper than running your oven for several hours – apparently running a slow cooker is like leaving a light bulb on?!

Ingredients

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450g chicken breast
450g chicken thighs
3 rashers of smoked back bacon
a chopped onion
whatever veg you like (I used carrot, mushroom and sweetcorn)
100g pearl barley
800ml chicken stock
1 tsp sage
1 tsp dried garlic / 2 garlic cloves
0.5 tsp rosemary
0.5 tsp thyme
salt & pepper

When cooking, it’s useful to think of what flavour combinations go together. In this instance, chicken and bacon is an obvious one. When it comes to adding flavour, think of what you’d normally associate with chicken. For example, I used sage – think of the sage and onion stuffing you’d have with your roast chicken. I also used rosemary and thyme (these go well together anyway) but not as much as the sage, because they’re quite strong flavours. I tend to smell herbs before I add them, to get an idea of how much I want to use. What do you want the overriding flavour to be? Does that makes sense??

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Add a tablespoon of oil to your pan and soften your onion (again I used frozen onion for this). Then add your chicken (chopped into bite size pieces) and cook it long enough to seal it (i.e. till it’s mostly turned white but not cooked through). I used both breast and thigh here because the kids prefer the texture of chicken breast, but thigh adds a lovely meatier flavour.  Add your bacon and let it cook for a few minutes.

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Add your veg (whatever you fancy really – I’m a big carrot and mushroom fan) and the pearl barley (this thickens the casserole without the need for any thickening agents (i.e. flour) so can be useful if you’re following certain diets!), then add your herbs, seasoning and stock. It’ll look like a lot of stock but you’ll need it because the barley will sook it right up. You can always add more stock if your casserole looks like it’s getting a bit dry. And don’t be scared of seasoning. Unseasoned food is flavourless food.

Chuck this in the oven at about 150C for about 2 hours. You’re really just waiting for the meat to cook, and the veg and barley to soften.  Take it out at least once halfway through to give it a right good stir. It’s maybe not the most glamourous looking of dishes, but it really is a lovely, warming winter meal.

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I served it with creamy mash, roasted veg and steamed cabbage. This was a pretty big casserole and did us two nights, so would normally serve at least 6 adults.

As a quick aside, do you know what possibly the single most important part of cooking is? Tasting your food. That might seem obvious, but a lot of folk don’t. And if you don’t taste your food, how do you know it’s even edible? Is it too salty? Not seasoned enough? Have you totally missed an ingredient? Before dishing up anything, make sure you taste it.

Right, my girls appear to be reverting to their early days and think it’s a good idea to get me out of bed several times a night. So I’m off for a sleep.

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Happy cooking.